Levels of Faith

By Ryan D’Alessandro

It’s really funny, the different levels of “faith” people have. During my years of religious discussions I’ve found that there are several types of Christians. From devout to merely getting a tattoo of a cross on the body, the spectrum is a wide one.

First there are the deeply devout Christians who believe the world is 10,000 years old, that a snake convinced Eve to eat an apple from a tree, that a man lived in a “big fish” for three days, that Jesus walked on water and doesn’t want homosexuals to have any rights. These are “Fundamentalist Christians” and to them their Holy Book is the Word of God. No exceptions. You follow every word, you’ll go to Heaven. You reject God just an ounce, you burn.

Next are the Moderate Christians, the ones who agree and adhere to the majority of what their preacher tells them. The moderate Christians don’t actually read the Bible on their own time; they just read what the Preacher says during his sermon. Whatever agenda the preacher chooses that Sunday is what the herd follows.

Maybe some of these Moderates don’t really want to be at Church some Sundays, but know that their co-workers or neighbors are going to be there and they don’t want to be looked down upon, so there they sit in the ever uncomfortable pews. The pastor or preacher may give out ‘homework’ assignments or reading assignments, and once these moderate Christians are finished with it, that’s all they do. They figure that’s enough for one week. They may or may not pray before bed; usually they only pray when they need something.

Then there are the “Liberal” Christians. This group tends to mold their religion into what they believe is correct. They may or may not believe in evolution, depending upon openness to evidence. In fact, they probably have never gone to church and don’t really know why they believe there is a God. They just “know” there is a heaven and a hell and don’t really care whether or not they sin, and in my travels, they all think they’re going to heaven.

I’m pretty sure these people have it wrong as far as Christianity goes, especially as compared to the other two pillars of faith.

Lastly are the Anomalous Christians, they have read the Bible cover to cover, are very intelligent, pray, believe completely in the Trinity yet still have the audacity to say certain Biblical stories are metaphors because they simply don’t make sense with the knowledge they have about science and reason. These Christians very often accept evolution and that the world is in fact billions of years old. They simply can’t see past the mountains of scientific evidence and are forced to mold Christianity to fit what makes sense. Some also understand the morally unjustifiable stances the
Bible contains, from beating one’s children to racism or any other type of bigotry.

These tend to be the most pleasant of the Christian variety, definitely the most “Christ-like” of the bunch.

These are the most prominent of the Christian flavors. But to think of it, there is only one honest option – the very first sub-division mentioned, Fundamentalist Christians. The Bible, and everything in it, is the word of God, and to deviate just one iota is to burn in hell forever. All or nothing. Moderate, Liberal or Anomalous Christians can’t cherry-pick the Bible for certain things they want to believe. The Bible doesn’t give permission to do that. Either believe the entire Bible and agree with it, or reject all of it.

If parts of the Bible seem too ridiculous to believe and are thus dismissed, then it cannot be a perfect book in the eyes of those who make this choice What makes a person think he can adjust God to fit his moral guidelines and still think he’s going to Heaven?

If the Bible is the Word of God and a man is to embrace that, there are beliefs to have and rules to follow – without exception. According to the New Testament, slavery is acceptable. We are to sell all our Earthly belongings to get the Heaven. I don’t know anyone who’s done that.

Mere humans are not allowed to flip through the pages and find ideas that make them feel good and then reject the less desirable parts. This may be news to some, but anyone who wants to get to Heaven better straighten up and follow the Word of God completely.

Or smarten up and reject Christianity as a whole. Either/or.

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23 Responses

  1. […] of my personal favorites is by Ryan D’Alessandro, Levels of Faith. It’s nice to have someone else contribute. Speaking of which, anyone with good ideas is […]

  2. Thank you for your kudos, friend.

  3. A couple of notes, as a Christian who won’t try categorize himself, I tend to agree there are levels of faith – in fact it’s an idea as old as the ‘The Parable of the Sower’ in the New Testament (which, incidentally all Christians consider to be metaphorical). So the writer makes an astute observation on this point.

    Where the article goes awry is in a couple of places – the first notable mischaracterization being this:

    According to the New Testament, slavery is acceptable.

    In actuality the New Testament lays the groundwork for the complete elimination of slavery in a society, in a couple of notable places, the first being the equality of all people groups as expressed in Galatians:

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    Galatians 3:28

    The second being the letter of Paul to Philemon, a slave owner, where he urges him to free his slave Onesimus:

    For perhaps (Onesimus, the slave)he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.
    Philemon 1:15-17

    This was the groundwork for the liberation of slaves in the Western world that is the idea of brotherhood of humanity, a consideration which had no precedent in the ancient world.
    And there is a second fairly typical mischaracterization:

    Mere humans are not allowed to flip through the pages and find ideas that make them feel good and then reject the less desirable parts. This may be news to some, but anyone who wants to get to Heaven better straighten up and follow the Word of God completely.

    Actually this is opposite of the Gospel message, which basically says no person can “follow the Word of God completely” and that is why a Savior is needed, namely Jesus – and that is where salvation is found, not in following the proscriptions of the Bible.

    Just a few points of correction.

  4. Religion did not lay the ground work for the abolition movement. If anything, the first step in the United States was when Jefferson and others put a stop to the importation of slaves based upon libertarian principles.

  5. I am not sure Jefferson is the best example of an ‘abolitionist’. While he certainly made statements and took perfunctory actions against slavery, he himself was a lifelong slaveholder – not only a slaveholder, but in all likelihood he had a slave as a personal concubine. He didn’t free all his slaves when given the opportunity, and he wrote at length about the inferiority of blacks, one of the regular justifications in the south of slave holders.

    The abolition movement itself was actually lead by men of great faith – notably William Wilberforce in England who devoted his life to ending the slave trade and is the single most prominent figure in ending it in England. In the US, Benjamin Rush was notable in Revolutionary America, and ideas about abolition later spread in large part through the effects of the Second Great Awakening – through preachers and believers like Charles Finney, Peter Cartwright, Arthur Tappan, William Loyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as many fine Christian educational institutions like Oberlin and William and Mary College.

    The fact is before the spread of Christianity there was no strong argument against slavery (nor strong desire to end it) and only after centuries of existence did Christianity have the power in certain societies to eradicate it – though of course it still exists in many countries in the world where Christianity has no similar stronghold.

  6. Jefferson also wrote in favor of the freedom of blacks early on in his political/public life (and according to one biographer, would have gone down as one of the great abolitionists had that been his primary claim to fame), but that’s all besides the point. Putting an end to the importation of slaves was the first big point in the abolition movement.

    You’re trying to draw a causal connection to a correlative event. What’s worse, Christianity was in force for some 1500 years where there was slavery, so what you’re trying to claim doesn’t even make sense.

  7. Jefferson certainly wasn’t the first person to sugggest abolition. In fact as late as 1820 he refused to support the abolition movement. He did however have the power to free his own slaves, but didn’t do it. At best he is a hypocrite in this respect. And ending the importation of slaves actually did little (and was little enforced), as there were already millions of Aficans in the US, and they could be bought, sold, and bred like cattle.

    And Christianity eliminated a lot of slavery in it’s existence – the sort found in the Atlantic slave trade didn’t arise until around the 1500s.

  8. Jefferson did not have the power to free his slaves as he was severely in debt. In fact, at one point several cities and states gathered money to make sure he didn’t lose Monticello (though not on his request), he was so in debt.

    But he was always a strong abolitionist in his writing. His public refusal stemmed from his belief that letting blacks be free was impractical given the circumstances, not to mention politically impossible (something with which Adams concurred).

    The ending of the slave trade obviously meant something. People were still importing slaves. The whole idea behind the ban was to stop infringing on the sovereignty of people of other nations. And then there’s the fact that imported slaves are easier to control as they have fewer means of communication and less cultural history as slaves. This has long been recognized as one of the key events in American slavery. You seem to be opposing that fact on the grounds of being stubborn.

    And Christianity promoted slavery more than it ever abolished it. Hell, it has rules for how one ought to treat slaves (which are really just in-group rules for Jews, but since Christians insist on adopting all the other in-group morality of the Jews, I digress).

  9. Jefferson did not have the power to free his slaves as he was severely in debt. In fact, at one point several cities and states gathered money to make sure he didn’t lose Monticello (though not on his request), he was so in debt.

    Actually Jefferson had promised to use the money willed to him by his wealthy friend Tadeuz Kościuszko to pay for the release of his slaves; he reneged on that promise. In fact he found the money and time to build a University during this time, but not to free the slaves. There is good reason to believe that had Jefferson led in this regard, it would have proved a great example and perhaps even have changed the character of slavery in the South.

    But he was always a strong abolitionist in his writing. His public refusal stemmed from his belief that letting blacks be free was impractical given the circumstances, not to mention politically impossible (something with which Adams concurred).

    Well again, I agree that on paper Jefferson was ‘anti-slavery’ – but in practice he owned hundreds of slaves and kept them even when he had the opportunity to set them free; and he considered blacks to inferior to whites in a number of ways, while using a slave as a concubine. Jefferson is the worst example of an ‘abolitionist’ – particularly when there were so many actual outstanding examples to compare him to.

    The ending of the slave trade obviously meant something. People were still importing slaves. The whole idea behind the ban was to stop infringing on the sovereignty of people of other nations. And then there’s the fact that imported slaves are easier to control as they have fewer means of communication and less cultural history as slaves. This has long been recognized as one of the key events in American slavery. You seem to be opposing that fact on the grounds of being stubborn.

    I agree that it was important; but it wasn’t abolition, and it doesn’t make Jefferson any less a hypocrite, and it doesn’t change the fact that real abolitionists were largely motivated by their faith. I am not the one being stubborn here.

    And Christianity promoted slavery more than it ever abolished it. Hell, it has rules for how one ought to treat slaves (which are really just in-group rules for Jews, but since Christians insist on adopting all the other in-group morality of the Jews, I digress).

    Paul wrote about how Christian slaves and their masters should act toward one another (the first Christians lived in a society where slavery was a reality for up to a quarter of the population, which they had no power to change); he also wrote (as I previously quoted) that Christ changed how we as Christians should view slaves, because it fundamentally altered how we should view other human beings. Equality, the notion that ultimately undergirds abolitionism, derives largely from the notion that we all have equal worth before God.

  10. Jefferson never gave clear reasons for why he did not honor that deal, so its irresponsible to draw particular conclusions. In fact, that can be said of much of his views toward slavery. But what we do know is that he educated his slaves, actually paid them sometimes, and he even wanted to set of the University of Virginia to be open to people of any race. And on that point, it should be noted that there were politics beyond Jefferson which restricted him – both in integrating the University of Virginia and in what he could do in terms of freeing his slaves; one of his lifelong dreams was to set up an grand system of education in his home state with a university being the crown on the whole thing. It is plausible to imagine that certain actions would have prevent this dream. But, of course, that’s still speculation (though it is fact-based, unlike yours).

    Also, Virginia spent $300,000 grand (in the early 1800’s) building the University, not Jefferson.

    You’re an idiot if you actually believe Jefferson is “the worst example of an abolitionist”. He spent a good lot of political capital agitating for abolition in his early years. Then, of course, ending the slave trade was a major step. You’re simply wrong (or a liar) to use this bait-and-switch and say “it wasn’t abolition”. That isn’t the point. The point is that it was a major starting point in the abolition movement. It would be like saying Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t a major starting point for equality in the military since, well, it didn’t actually bring equality.

    Your lies about Jefferson aside, your position on faith and abolition is incoherent. Christians promoted slavery for 1,500 years. (Oh, and nice bait-and-switch again where I point out the Old Testament rules for holding slaves and you cite the New Testament.). Hell, the Dark Ages were largely the fault of religion – primarily Christianity. And in that time, slavery was rampant – just as it was from the point where Christians invaded North America, and enslaved and attacked Indians until the Civil War.

  11. Michael I apreciate your ability to imagine what Jefferson ‘might have done’ had politics been different, or if he had more money, or if his dreams were fulfilled, etc. etc., but I am considering actual facts and actual history, not the dreams of a schoolboy who admires Jefferson.

    And the fact that as usual you have resorted to ad homs just proves once more how little control you have over your emotions, and how little reason is behind your claims.

    When you have some actual calm, rational facts to back your claims (or specific responses to what I actually wrote) instead of whiny facetious knee-jerk reactions, let us know, k?

  12. 1) It’s tough to accuse someone of an ad hominen attack immediately after calling him “a schoolboy” fan, isn’t it?

    2) My ‘ad hominen’ is not of the abusive variety. Instead, it is of the vain that one sees in court rooms: X witness has such-and-such conflicting interests, thus the truth of what he says is suspect. Just the same, you have the stated motivation of showing that Christianity somehow brought an end to slavery, thus your interpretation of the actions of a deist are suspect.

    I, on the other hand, can agree that religion was one tool some abolitionists used to help end slavery. However, it is ridiculous to claim that it provided the motivation for the end of slavery. Rather, the influence of the Enlightenment, progressive philosophers (such as Hume and Jefferson), and the shrinking of the world, so-to-speak, were the big motivators.

  13. Actually, your ad homs (and I appreciate you at least acknowledging your employment of the fallacy) are of this sort:
    1. I am right
    2. Since I am right, anyone who has a different opinion than I do must stupid or lying
    3. You disagree with me, therefore you are either stupid or lying

    Hard to beat that logic I suppose – but easy enough to see the folly contained therein.

    Again Michael, when you can support your arguments apart from emotional outbursts and ad homs, I will be glad to again demonstrate where they are lacking.

  14. My “acknowledging” has nothing to do with your claim. You implied the use of a certain sort of ad hominen (immediately after using it yourself) whereas I pointed out that I used the argumentatively valid form.

  15. I am not sure how being either a school boy or admirer is either an ad hom or anything like being called an idiot or a liar – I have been a boy at school and an admirer of different folks, so I don’t particularly find those terms offensive.

    Either way, neither ‘liar’ nor ‘idiot’ are ever an ‘argumentatively valid form’ of ad hom – they are always a retreat from reason when one has failed to prove one’s case.

    And as to your claim that what I say on the subject is ‘suspect’ (despite my documentation of historical fact) because I am a Christian, then your argument would be equally suspect as an opponent of Christianity – so at the very least you have no standing to make such an argument.

  16. The points are pretty simple. The end of the slave trade was the starting point of abolition in the U.S. You can say otherwise, but you have ill-motivations which belie your bait-and-switch. That is, when you inanely claim “That isn’t abolition” you’re taking the term at a literal value that implies individual acts instead of the movement that it was. Jefferson wanted the freedom of blacks. He started to get that by ending the slave trade. Further reasoning for his action was that he believed blacks were inferior to whites (just as Lincoln did) and would be better off moved into a sovereign land of their own – not just dispersed within the United States where they would have nowhere to go at the time. (In fact, many former slaves continued to work for their former masters under roughly the same conditions for many years after the Civil War. Without an event so monumental as that, such a plight would have only be longer with an end difficult to fathom.)

    As for the rest of the content you seem to refuse to address, your position is still incoherent. You can’t seriously claim Christianity had anything to do with the motivation for the end of slavery since it lived alongside and actively promoted the practice for at least 1,500 years.

  17. Jefferson may very well have wanted the freedom of blacks; lots of southern politicians and plantation owners claimed the same thing, and made some of the same excuses for not actually emancipating their slaves – they couldn’t afford it, it wasn’t politically astute, the slaves couldn’t handle freedom, etc. etc. Whatever the case, neither Jefferson nor the others were in any way ‘abolitionists’ – and that is what we are talking about, people who desired and acted to abolish slavery. Slavery didn’t diminish in America at all after Jefferson got his legislation passed, because the slave trade was unnecessary to perpetuate slavery in the US – which is why true abolitionists had to continue their work right up to the civil war, which was in part about ending slavery in the US. And most of the leaders of that abolitionist movement were dedicated Christians. Those are the facts however you want to spin Jefferson’s racism and slave ownership.

    When you get recent history right, we can deal with the rest of history.

  18. So everything would have been exactly the same had the slave trade continued?

  19. Slavery would have continued for the next half century or so either way without actual abolition.

  20. You do realize that it effectively continued after the Civil War, right? Do you think it would have been better had those been first generation slaves who couldn’t speak English?

  21. ‘It’ meaning the slave trade?

  22. Slavery didn’t ‘effectively continue’ after the civil war. Some still lived like slaves, and the vast majority lived in poverty, but had they not ‘spoken English’ (as if they recieved significant education from their slave masters to begin with) they would have been like the thousands of other immigrants who came to the US yearly at that time.

    Either way, it’s irrelevant because you are saying because Jefferson did one positive thing, it somehow how counters the awful things he did that perpetuated slavery – again, that is the same argument many slave owners and confederates made – I don’t buy it.

    Had Jefferson been an actual abolitionist, and freed his slaves, who is to say it might not have caused any number of slave owners to follow suit? I mean if we are going to speculate about what might have been, that scenario is equally likely – and would have the effect of making Jefferson an abolitionist, which he was not.

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